Report: Detroit has world’s worst air quality amid drifting Canadian wildfire smoke

The haze across Michigan related to drifting smoke from Canadian wildfires makes has given Detroit the worst air quality in the world, according to one measure.

IQAir’s Air Quality Index initially ranked Chicago first with an air quality index in the 170s, securing a spot in the unhealthy category of 151-200.

Late Tuesday, Detroit surpassed it at 203. Chengdu, China and Delhi, India placed third and fourth, according to the website late Tuesday. Toronto, Canada was fifth.

IQAir works to fight air pollution, operates “the world’s largest free real-time air quality information platform,” according to its website.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s site showed parts of Illinois, lower Michigan and southern Wisconsin had the worst air quality in the U.S. on Tuesday afternoon, and Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee had air quality categorized as “very unhealthy.”

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has issued a statewide air quality alert through Wednesday, advising children, vulnerable adults and warning pet owners to limit time outdoors due to the elevated levels of particulate matter from smoke concentration from Canadian wildfires.

It is the first time EGLE has issued a statewide air quality alert, said Alec Kownacki, a meteorologist with EGLE’s air quality division. Others have been for parts of the state.

“These smoke plumes are just denser, wider and thicker than what we were seeing earlier in June, and how the winds are wrapping around the weather system that is going up east right now, it’s just pulling all of that into our state,” Kownacki said.

A layer of haze can be seen over downtown Detroit, June 7, 2023. Smoke from Canadian wildfires is responsible for poor air quality throughout the Midwest and East Coast.
Sara Schultz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township, characterized Tuesday’s alert as “one of the worst ones we’ve had.”

“We are getting into the unhealthy range for sensitive groups today,” Schultz said. “People are going to want to be careful about going outside.”

The smoke originated from wildfires in Quebec, Canada. reported just after 5 p.m. an air quality index of 283 for Detroit, an increase from 250 two hours before, which is in the “very unhealthy” range.

A screengrab depicting the PM2.5, 283 air quality index measurement for Detroit issued by on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services advised people particularly sensitive to the conditions to stay indoors with air conditioning and reduce strenuous activities. The department recommended wearing N95 masks outside.

“Older adults aged 65 and older, pregnant people, children, and people with lung and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke. Symptoms from breathing in particle pollution from wildfire smoke can include wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath,” officials said. “If you have asthma, follow your asthma control action plan or contact your health care provider if you have symptoms. If you have heart disease and experience these symptoms, contact your health care provider.”

The American Heart Association warned wildfire smoke exposure poses an increased risk for heart disease.

The State Veterinarian’s Office also weighed in, issuing a release about the effect of air quality on animals.

“Similar to humans, animals are also affected when there are issues with air quality, especially birds, animals with underlying respiratory and heart conditions, and other sensitive populations — such as young or senior animals,” said assistant state veterinarian Jennifer Calogero. “If animals are being negatively affected by breathing poor quality air, they could exhibit various signs of illness, including coughing, wheezing, having difficulties breathing, eye drainage, lethargy, changing the sound of their vocalization, decreased appetite and thirst.”

The air quality affected the Michigan Air National Guard’s flyover over in nine Michigan communities to mark the U.S. Air Force’s 100th anniversary of aerial refueling. Low visibility prevented onlookers in Detroit from seeing the aircrafts overhead.

“I’m slightly disappointed,” said Nicolai Vincent, 23, of Brighton, who gathered with some friends on the Detroit RiverWalk, expecting the KC-135 Stratotanker and A-10 thunderbolts fly over.

The gray skies, an air quality alert and low hanging clouds made if difficult for anyone on the RiverWalk outside of Hart Plaza and on Belle Isle to see the aircraft.

“It was very stealthy,” said Marshall Lockyer, 22, of Beverly Hills.

The conditions “will lead to reduced visibilities at times and you may notice a campfire smell in the air,” the weather service in Grand Rapids tweeted. “… Everyone should limit time outdoors.”

The weather service advises that windows be closed overnight and run central air conditioning with MERV-13 or higher rated filters. It also recommends avoiding outdoor burning and use of residential wood burning devices.

“Most people think of breathing problems and respiratory health dangers from wildfire smoke, but it’s important to recognize the impact on cardiovascular health, as well,” said Dr. Comilla Sasson, vice president for science and innovation at the American Heart Association and a practicing emergency medicine physician. “Wildfire smoke contains a lot of pollutants including fine, microscopic particles linked to cardiovascular risk.”

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reported Monday that 76,129 square kilometers (29,393 square miles) of land including forests has burned across Canada since Jan. 1. That exceeds the previous record set in 1989 of 75,596 square kilometers (29,187 square miles), according to the National Forestry Database.

Nationally, there are currently 490 fires burning, with 255 of them considered to be out of control.

Even recent rainfall in Quebec likely won’t be enough to extinguish the wildfires ravaging the northern part of that province, but the wet weather could give firefighters a chance to get ahead of the flames, officials said Tuesday.

Nearly a quarter of the fires burning in Canada are in Quebec. Environment Canada meteorologist Simon Legault said he expects rain to stop falling by Wednesday morning in the regions most affected by forest fires.

Earlier this month, massive fires burning stretches of Canadian forests blanketed the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region, turning the air yellowish gray, and prompting warnings for people to stay inside and keep windows closed.

In early June, U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that hundreds of American firefighters and support personnel have been in Canada since May, and called attention to the fires as a reminder of the impacts of climate change.

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